Transformations and Affirmations of What We Do Best

Big changes are afoot at the University of Oregon.

On July 1, 2014, the independent board that the UO administration sought for so long will be invested. This board will bring new opportunities for the UO to seek funding, contain costs and pursue creative solutions to improve education and research. But the new board will also bring increased scrutiny and accountability—rather than one board spreading its efforts over eight Oregon universities, we will have one board focusing all its attention on ways to make the UO ever better.

Another big change—in October 2013, the faculty union ratified a first-time contract for tenured and nontenured faculty members at the university. The new contract regularizes employment practices across the entire university. It also requires immense effort in its early years as we revise or implement policies and practices to be consistent with the bargaining agreement.

These transformations are taking place in a much larger context: the rapidly shifting landscape of higher education in America. Across the nation, we continue to see disinvestment in public higher education and reduced availability of research funds. This disinvestment means that public universities are increasingly competing with one another for limited resources, whether it be research dollars, out-of-state students and the higher tuition they pay, or faculty members who can meet the challenges of this new environment.

And the biggest change? From my perspective, it is the ongoing shift in our student population. This year, the entering class has an average grade point average of 3.60, the highest in the university’s history. Our student body is also more diverse than ever, with 27 percent domestic minorities and 10 percent international students. Our university literally has a new face.

Any one of these changes would be large in terms of managing the university and articulating its vision. In combination, they represent a major sea change, the largest any of us are likely to see in our lifetimes at the UO. What occurs over the next several years will set the trajectory for decades to come.

Yet, in the midst of all this change, one element remains constant: our commitment to the liberal arts as the core of what we do. As I travel the country, I hear repeatedly from our alumni that what set them up for their careers and lives was not training in a particular topic, but training in habits of the mind. The ability to question critically, think logically, communicate clearly, act creatively and live ethically is what enables our students to thrive in a world where we cannot predict the social context, the economy or the jobs of tomorrow. Add a bit of the Oregon magic—a strong sense of community, a commitment to social change, a belief in improving the world for tomorrow—and you have the recipe for a remarkable future for each of our students.

As you read through this issue of Cascade, you will see the elements of the liberal arts—Oregon-style—highlighted. In fact, in this time of dramatic change, our commitment to this core belief is so strong that we are choosing to celebrate it with our new messaging for the College of Arts and Sciences: “It’s Elemental.” Never have the liberal arts been more central to the success of our students. Now is the time to celebrate and share that story as we set the course for the future of the University of Oregon.


W. Andrew Marcus was named acting dean of the College of Arts and Sciences on July 1, 2013. He is a professor of geography and proud parent of two UO graduates and a current UO student.

Photo: Kelly James